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Miami Basketball Player Quotes: Villanova Pregame

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Q. Sheldon, if you could just talk about leaving home, leaving Texas after the first couple years there, the journey from there to here and what you've learned about yourself in that time and, also, the prospect of getting home to Houston for a Final Four, what that would mean to you.
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: Well, I went through a lot of struggles at Texas. I mean, I actually felt I had two great years on the court, but it was just certain things that people didn't see, whether it was during practice or during the games that I wasn't comfortable with.

So I felt like I needed a change of venue. So I wanted to transfer, and I think that was the best decision for me. After I took my visit, I kind of fell in love with the coaches, and especially Coach L. Once I found out Angel was transferring, I wanted to play with him because I was so used to playing against him in the Big 12. I knew he would be a great teammate, and I knew we would be a great team.

The day after I left, I kind of knew where I was going. I just kept it to myself and once I was ready to commit, I committed. So that was that.

And as far as returning to Houston, it will be the best thing in my life. So I'm praying and hoping we get there. Take one game at a time and it will be great to play our Final Four in Houston. I probably need a hundred tickets, but I just want to get there.

Q. This is for all three of you. And, Angel, you can start, if you would, because you had said after the game the other night against Wichita State that you thought it was great for you guys to be tested like this at this point in the season, leading by 21, losing the lead, coming back. If each of you could tell me what you think you got out of that experience that will help you going forward. What did you learn from that?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: Well, learned a lot of things. One of them is the fact that nobody's going to quit. At this point of the year, everybody knows you lose, you go home. Doesn't matter if you're up 25, 30. Teams are going to fight to come back.

And at the same time, it was great to learn that as a team, we were willing to take on that challenge, a team coming back from 21 points. Definitely, they had all the momentum, the crowd was into it.

We definitely weren't playing with the same rhythm we started the game. But we stayed together. We found a way to make plays to get ourselves going, and that's what it's about at this point in the season.

It's about just finding a way to win a game for that day, because after that, it's over. You move on, and you have a new opportunity.

TONY JEKIRI: I think for me, what I think, I strongly agree with him. It's always a game of win or go home. So that game really taught us a lot, that we got to keep our focus and never lose focus of what we came to do in the first half, we really had our focus and we had really good defensive stops.

On offense, we really shared the ball and we made great plays and we hurt them to a certain point in the first half.

But coming into the second half, I think we fell behind a little bit, we lost focus, and we had to fight our way back. And, I mean, that is a great time to really learn and to build from.

Our captain here, Angel, he was in the huddle. Every time he was just saying, you know, they made a run. We've got to make our run. And that was what really helped us. Nobody really dropped their head down or tried to blame each other.

All we did was just pull together and we just kept rolling. And Coach L was great, and he just -- we made some turnovers that wasn't forced by Wichita. We just made it because we lost focus, just inbounding the ball and stuff like that.

But he called a time-out and all he said to us was, guys, you've got to be focused. I mean, you've got to keep doing what you've been doing through the first half. And, I mean, their fans were coming up, screaming and yelling. That was bringing them back. And we were losing our own fans.

But when we bounced back and we took back the lead, the energy came back, the focus came back, and we played great just to win.

I think that's where it all comes in. Adversity, sometimes you've just got to keep fighting.

SHELDON MCCLELLAN: I think it really helped our character as a team and helping us stay together as a team. Basketball is a game of runs. We made our run the first ten minutes, and we kind of set the tone, and towards the end of the game, they made their run. A big run for them.

So I think it really helped us stay poised down the stretch, like Coach always say. Steady as a team.

And we made just enough plays to win the game. So that's all that matters. Some teams, they kind of will get down on themselves or one guy will try to do it all in one play, but we stay together as a team. We got the important stops we needed down the stretch, and that kind of helped us offensively.

So I think it was great that they took the lead with a couple minutes left, kind of really helped us.

Q. This question is for Angel and Sheldon. The team in 2013 was maybe looked at as the best team in program history. You guys can do what they weren't able to do by getting to the Elite Eight. I was wondering if you could -- where do you feel like this would place you guys in terms of program history? Would this make you the best ever if you're able to get there? Do you even look at it that way?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: Honestly, we've been hearing about it, that the program has never reached an Elite Eight, so we definitely want to be the first group of guys to do that, and it will be a big accomplishment for us and the program.

But I don't know, man. It's kind of up to y'all for those comparisons. We just try to win the game and advance. It's called survive and advance for a reason. That's our main focus. We just want to execute the game plan and try to advance.

ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: First of all, they were the team who started the winning culture, if you want to put it like that, under Coach L. As a coach, what they did is definitely a huge accomplishment. But it's different times, it's a different league. We had a lot of new teams join the ACC for the regular season.

As far as postseason, we're really not trying to compare ourselves to them. We're just truly trying to do this for each other. But it's great to know that we have an opportunity to do something that's never been done in school and that we're just literally a game away from it.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to what I always say. The goal is not to break a record, to get here, to get there. Bottom line, to win a championship, and that's what we're here for.

Q. For each of you, Coach L said that looking at Villanova, almost like a mirror image of each other, have swapped drills with Coach Wright and ball screening and defenses that you all play. When you're looking at Villanova, how familiar are you with what they're doing based on what you all do?
SHELDON MCCLELLAN: Well, I think they -- offensively they like to shoot a lot of 3s, and I think they get a lot of their momentum off 3s. So definitely want to run them off the 3-point line. Don't want to let them get comfortable there. They kind of play a pressure defense. Pretty sure, if they watched last game, they're probably going to pressure us because we had a couple of unforced turnovers.

I have trust in our guards and myself that we'll take care of the ball so that won't be a problem. It's a team that like to get up and down on fast breaks just like us. Very similar team. So it will be a great game.

Q. Sheldon and Angel in particular, you've been on teams before that have had some postseason play, and how do you lean on that experience and how does that shape what's driving you guys this year?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I think it's not just my experience or Sheldon's experience. Tony has a lot of experience too. As a team overall, I think last year, even though it was a disappointment, it was definitely very helpful for the young guys to gain some postseason experience.

And, you know, as seniors, I think it goes far beyond just having experience. I think that the motivation and the -- knowing that this is it. If we lose, our college careers are over. But we definitely have an opportunity to do something special and to hopefully make our career last an extra week and accomplish something special, like I said.

Q. For Tony and Sheldon, following up on the experience angle. As a veteran team, what advantage do you see when you're playing a younger team? I'm not referring to Villanova, but last year, Kentucky and Duke got to the Final Four with very freshmen-dominated lineups. How do you attack that?
TONY JEKIRI: We're really not a young team. And the team we're playing, I don't think that's a young team. It's just guys with a lot of experience, and Villanova has been in the Sweet 16. They were there last year and they have a great coach and a great program.

We give them so much respect. We just go in there and we just play. I mean, we secure our game plan and play together and try to help each other out and in any area we're lacking, because the game, I mean, when you take the floor and the game starts, there are so many other things that might be going on.

Within a game, if you need to score, you've got to do your job. If you need a rebound, you've got to do your job. So things like that, I think that is where the experience comes in.

And then for Sheldon and for Angel and myself, we've been in this position before, and all we've got to do is just go in there and pull in a group of guys who have not been here before and just try to pull them together to ourselves so that we can do the right thing, just to get a win.

Q. Angel, having been there with him from the start, where have you seen Sheldon grow? What do you think he's learned about himself since coming to Miami? And, also, how much has he talked about or has he talked about trying to get home to Houston for that Final Four?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I've seen him, obviously, grow the most as far as his game. He's improved in a lot of things. He was always a big-time scorer before, but now he's doing it a lot of different ways.

He still, in my opinion, hasn't learned to be as aggressive as we want him to be. But at the end of the day, we're winning games and that's all he cares about. I know that for sure.

What was your other question? Oh, and we definitely talked about it. In fact, multiple times before yesterday, but yesterday specifically I remember we started talking about it because I was able to win a championship in Puerto Rico, and that was a very special feeling. So I said, we got to get you to Houston so you can know what it feels like to win a championship at home.

So it's definitely a very exciting experience for all of us, especially for him because, of course, he's from Houston.